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  • Standards can help you make progress on sustainable development

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    Ben Hedley

    International Standards supporting SDGs

    The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2023 makes clear that, halfway to the 2030 deadline for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), progress has not met expectations. Urgent action is required to address poverty and inequality, improve social protections, education and gender equality, and widen access to digital technology.


    UN Secretary-General Guterres says that ‘these shifts must be supported by strengthened national institutions, greater accountability, effective regulatory frameworks and stronger digital infrastructure and data capacity.’


    Standards have a crucial role to play in providing the underlying frameworks and assurance that can pave the way to progress on SDGs.


    What progress has been made towards the SDGs?


    In 2015, the UN agreed a 15-year plan to address some of the most pressing issues in the world by 2030. These issues were divided into 17 SDGS, covering everything from poverty and hunger to the environment, economic growth and strong institutions.


    Achieving the SDGs was never going to be easy, but world events since 2015 have created additional challenges. However, some analysts say that governmental inaction is also a major factor: the bold leadership required to change people’s habits has been lacking.


    According to the UN, of the 140 SDG targets that can be evaluated, half show moderate or severe deviations from the desirable trajectory. Almost one third (30%) of targets have shown no progress or have even reversed below the 2015 baseline.


    For governments, especially in developing countries, making progress on MDGs has to be balanced against other priorities. The long-term, open-ended nature of MDGs and the additional vision required to translate the goals into tangible, country-specific action might mean MDGs lose out to other needs.


    ISO standards to help meet SDGs


    The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has published over 22,000 standards and related documents setting out guidelines and frameworks formed through international consensus. Many of these ISO standards can be used to put ideas into practice.


    ISO has even identified how many standards in its portfolio relate to each SDG – by far the most standards relate to SDG 9: industry innovation and infrastructure; 14,847 standards relate to this goal.


    For example, ISO 44001 covers business relationship management systems, which can help to facilitate business practices and relationships, while ISO 56002 sets out guidance on innovation management systems and ISO 56003 offers tools and methods for collaborative innovation partnership. Use of these standards can help to create an environment where businesses work together to become more than the sum of their parts, allowing them to innovate, grow and compete internationally.


    ISO standards can also help businesses to operate safely and with minimum impacts on the environment, for example by providing test methods to determine pollution levels, or specifications that help to ensure buildings are safe for users.


    Another key area where ISO standards can help is with SDG: Good health and Well-being. In developing countries, ensuring access to high quality healthcare is a challenge that can impact on national productivity and quality of life. ISO standards for everything from the ISO 11137 series on sterilizing healthcare products to ISO 37101 on the sustainable development of communities, or ISO 45001 on occupational health and safety, offer support for sectors and organizations looking to make improvements.


    Why not take a look at the ISO standards for yourself?

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